Rebooting the Matrix

by Matt Soriano | 5/20/03 5:00am

There is a climactic car chase/fight scene/shootout in The Matrix: Reloaded that was one of the most relevant parts of the Wachowski brothers' film. It wasn't because of the technical mastery of the wire work, special effects and martial arts. This explosive action sequence piqued my attention because all of the cars involved were GM products. An Escalade SUV and a CTS sports sedan, as part of their service to the Grande Dame of American Luxury, were the chosen mounts of leading actors in the film. Fittingly, their demises are glorious and almost emotional affairs of painfully screeching metal, angry stuttering machine guns and roaring engines. Yet the entire spectrum of GM cars are gleefully destroyed as well. Featuring prominently were a series of unfortunate Malibus, Suburbans, Caprices, Intrigues and GMC trucks.

Apparently the Matrix's operating system never allowed for Japanese or German cars to penetrate the American markets. Nor did it seem pertinent for any character in the film to drive a Lincoln LS while evading enemies in Lincoln Navigators. And it might have been too craven for it to be central to the plot that a GM product save the lives of the protagonists, while the antagonists -- who have chosen rival products -- suffer brutal deaths due to their poor product choice.

Or maybe it was just that if Trinity had used OnStar to call for help it might have conflicted with the Wachowski brothers' contract with Samsung LG group, which provided all the mobile phones for the film.

It is remarkable that the central theme of a movie franchise -- the fact that our lives involve little if any free choice -- would not be weakened but strengthened by such cross-marketing affairs. The Matrix's artistic integrity is in an odd way strengthened by its dominance of our culture for the past few days. Time Warner, the producer of the film, managed to create a culture of breathlessness among moviegoers such that some of us stood in line for hours to buy tickets for which the movie theaters could very well have charged double. Indeed, the tight integration of the plotlines of "The Matrix: Reloaded" and the forthcoming "The Matrix: Revolutions" makes it impossible for us to see one without seeing the other. It is said that certain aspects of the Matrix trilogy are better understood if you play the video game. How will millions of Americans avoid shelling out $59.99 in addition to the $7.50 for the movie ticket? I'm sure Time Warner Media has a detailed forecast.

This insight leads us to an unfortunate end: The Matrix' marketing blitz is symptomatic of the depressing inability of individuals to actually control their lives. Our modern Matrix sweeps individuals up as flotsam in the sea of large corporations shamelessly manipulating us for corporate profit which is predictably distributed to shareholders in exchange for Cadillac SUVs and Samsung mobile phones. In economic terms we all act in an endogenous model. A affects B which affects A again until we can never really understand which affects which.

Yet the Matrix offers us a way out of this repetitive feedback loop. In the film it involves Morpheus' choice of a blue pill and a red pill, the latter of which leads to Neo's physical disconnection from the Matrix. Later, Neo reenters the Matrix as a superhero capable of stopping bullets and battling hordes of hostile Agents. Nothing changed except Neo's appreciation of the Matrix. In effect, Neo's mind was freed from the constraints of the Matrix's rules.

Thus we return to the power inherent in simply changing one's mental barriers. The Wachowski brothers' original film ignited sparks throughout the cinematic community. Ultimately the Wachowski brothers achieved fame and fortune not through their application of tried and true formulas but to their revolutionary fusion of philosophy, cinematography and action. Convention leads to nothing more than normality. Revolution breaks the cycle.

There's something to be said for convention as we graduate. Certainly conventional goals and conventional methods are appropriate because they operate within the world of the known. Even within this "community of the mind" there is still room for those who seek to educate by conforming to professors' goals and conforming to the norm for Dartmouth students. Yet true genius isn't measured by success within this world -- it's measured by our success in changing it. We will know when we must take a leap of faith and test the boundaries of the ordinary. And we can all reach out with our hands and stop speeding bullets. We can do it because we know we can.